Moving House

The wretched old farmhouse is getting moved across the field to a new home.

Surprisingly on schedule (our third year here), we’re getting the old building moved off of its very sketchy “foundation” (six cinder blocks) and off of the eroded wet hole that it stands over, in favour of level ground.

If we let it go any longer, it’s going to fall over or rot.

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Before. Jacked up and set on skids, but still on the eroded hole.

Let me just say at the outset:  I know, I know, it would be cheaper and easier to knock this thing down and build a new one.   (It’s the first thing everybody says).

It would. I know.

I think I’m saving the house for purely sentimental reasons.  It’s over 100 years old, it’s the only remaining structure from the once flourishing and now completely non-existent turn-of-the-century gold mining community that once populated this corner of Nova Scotia, and I don’t want to be the one to tear it down, although that would make more sense in many ways.

We don’t even have a plan for it, just that we’re going to start with a basic rescue.

Before moving time, HW took out the central brick chimney, before the chimney fell through the floor and took some of the house with it.  The chimney wasn’t salvageable, because it took a couple of jogs, so could never have a liner inserted.

A neighbour of ours is contracted to move it.

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Tractor glamour shot

Initially he jacked it up, put two 8x8s under it, and under those, 4x10s, supported by cribbing set up in the muddy hole.

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Before initial move

That gave enough support to roll the house off of the hole and onto the planks set in the solid ground.

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Off the hole

Some problems arose at that point.  One gable wall is in serious trouble, having had structural members cut out for windows (?) and not having been reframed properly, so the whole wall decided to “burst” outward, threatening the roof.

We more or less tied it back together with come-alongs and a winch and bracing, to hold the rafters from spreading, and take this broken wall along for the ride.  It’s going to need to be completely reframed.  There turned out to be no header over either window.  This wall was never going to make it.

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Since the house has now proved too fragile to move like “normal”, by dragging across the ground on skids, he’s continuing to roll it on 1.5″ pipe rollers, under the skids on heavy planks.img_4487img_4484

This is time consuming, as every few feet you have to collect the pipes that spit out the back and move them to the front, and also move the (v heavy) planks to the front.  The house wants to drift sideways off of its planks, so he has to jack it up to adjust its heading periodically, plus the intended direction is not quite a straight line, so he’s slowly turning it.

Although it’s slow, the house just glides along when it rolls.

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It’s now past the leaning woodshed (we aren’t going to save that)

new hens

I’ve got new hens!  Four new-to-me deliveries, two reds and two leghorns (people often get rid of hens this time of year- most of my layers are handmedowns).  What a novelty, to have white eggs!  They got right on it too, one leghorn laying in the coop on her first morning.  She’s the fast learner.  Came walking down the ramp on her first day.img_4682

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We picked them up after dark, and I carried them home in a box on my lap, petting them through the cardboard flaps.

I didn’t have much of a choice, I put them into the coop with the others, and had to hope the rooster would handle welcoming committee duties, as he has before.  I pushed his usual concubines aside and tucked the new hens right in next to him, to bond.

Well, Day One dawned, and I let down the ramp.  Leghorn One trotted down the ramp with the others, and joined them at the trough.

I waited.

I lifted the lid on the coop.  The remaining three were huddled there in panic, just until they all burst flapping out of the open lid and ran away squawking.  So I left.  That’s no good.  That means they will not no where to return to at night, and they didn’t.

I tiptoed back later, and the new hens were all milling around the coop, eating.  And so was the rooster!  He was hanging out with the new girls!  Most of the old girlfriends had decamped to the house after breakfast like they always do.img_4502

I like the way leghorns look, with their ultra-stiff erect tails.

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I know what to do with a nest box

And their floppy combs, often flapped over one eye, like an ill-fitting beret.

HW says they remind him of Beatniks, and if he creeps up real quiet, maybe he’ll hear some chicken jazz, or a poetry slam going down.

At night, as predicted, they hunkered down in the brush a few feet from the coop.  It took several days of nightly scooping for them to get the idea, one at a time, that they live in the coop.

They’re sweet little things. They’re very tame.  They come right up to me, and let me touch them.  The rooster spends all his time with them now, staying with them as they ever so slowly expand their scope outward from the vicinity of the coop.

The new girls don’t know that the greenhouse is off-limits, and blithely trot in behind me.  Don’t mind if I do!  Hm, good stuff in here.img_4499

Then I get to shoo them out.img_4501

One is very low on the chicken totem pole.  Cringe-ingly subservient, as pictured top-of-post.  She had a chance to make a new start, but missed it.  I should call her Violet, as in “shrinking”.  She’s always got her head low, ducking and genuflecting.

They’re getting the hang of having the world to roam in though:img_4471

As these hens went tentatively trotting down the path after the others, I thought They’re gonna fit right in!

A couple nights later, I come home and go to feed them chicken supper, and there are no leghorns.  Oh no, did they get eaten because they’re white?  All the other hens show up for dinner, but the leghorns.  I look all over.  As a last resort, I check inside the coop.  They’ve already gone to bed!  They are the early birds.  Early to bed, early to rise, first down the ramp in the morning, with an egg already laid.

Dispatches from Silkieland

from Oct 17

Look at those feet!

Look at those little wings!img_4515 img_4514

Look at mama looking back.  What’s taking so long?

img_4506This mama has ideas.  At night I put them all in the box for the night.  In the morning she lets herself out to graze.  The chicks know where she is, but all frustrated.

Seven chicks survive.  She hatched an amazing, record setting nine, but two didn’t make it.  It’s almost normal for one chick to die every setting.

Chick death by hanging from the mother’s underfluff is a very real risk, as bizarre as I thought it was the first time.   I saved three chicks from this hatch from hanging.  I found two at once being dragged around by the neck.  What a fate.  Her underfeathers were glued together at the ends, poop no doubt, and chicks had their heads stuck in the loop, probably from burrowing under her.  I saved them, phew!, pulling the feathers apart, and feeling for other knots.     I suppose the solution would be combing their bellies shortly after hatching.  You first.

It’s a bit like 101 Dalmatians around here now.  Chicks everywhere.  In the greenhouse, in the chickeries – I’ve lost track of how many sets there were this summer.  Some hens went broody twice.  There are a lot of chicks scampering around.

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The last remaining greenhouse setter is good as gold in her broody box, but she loves breakfast.  She eats nearly her whole bowl of food every day, and she goes at it enthusiastically the moment it’s given (as opposed to other broodies, who eat a bowl of food every week or two, and pretend they don’t care about food when you put it in with them).

Outside, it’s cooling off.  The birds come tumbling down the ramp every morning, and then, ugggh!, halt on the ramp to hunch their shoulders and fluff out.  Sometimes they just go back inside. Not ready to greet this day. 

There are two ways to identify roosters.  1) Even very small, they start beefing with the other baby cocks.  They lower their heads and stick their necks out, then stand up really tall on their toes, beak to beak.  If that doesn’t settle it, there’s some chest bumping.   2) Baby cocks hero-worship the rooster.  I’m gonna be just like you someday!  They are first to arrive when he does his food clucks, and they tag along with him, everywhere.

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I came home to Snowball out of the Silkie paddock, who knows how or why, and whaddya know, Wannabe Jr. is out there with him.  Note unflappable (harharhar) white hen looking on.

 

Orchard Essentials

Two things from Lee Valley Tools have made all the difference to orchard interaction this year. VERY worthwhile orcharding tools.

  1. The pole pruner.  It has interchangeable heads – a saw and a snip pruner, and a telescoping pole.  HW used that in the spring to prune some of our five dozen apple trees.

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2. The apple picker bag.  Here it is shown being used in combination with the telescoping pole of the pruner, although they are not designed to work together.  The bag unclips from the two part frame.

You scoop an apple and twist and push or pull, and the apple detaches into the bag.  The bag will hold about 5 apples, but that gets heavy to swing around in the air.

I won’t go so far as to say it is enjoyable to pick apples with a basket on a pole – one gets a headache and a squint from looking up so long and manipulating a tool on the end of a long stick – but if you have old, tall trees, and the apples grow high, this makes it possible to pick them.

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2016 was a terrible apple year.  No trees distinguished themselves as heavy bearers, and the apples that made it were high on the trees and held tight on their stems.

With the picker, I was able to get about 5 buckets full of apples for cider.  Without the picker, I’d have about 5 apples.

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There are a couple clips unhooked in these pictures

Like I said, this pruner pole and the basket aren’t made to work together, and sometimes they don’t.  After cooperating like a charm for several days, one evening they suddenly refused to work together and the basket parts came sproinging apart and getting hung up high in the trees.  Fun!

Chicken treats – cucumbers!

Few things incite as much excitement as giving cucumbers to the Silkies.

The rooster loses his mind chirping, and all the little furballs go scurrying around, grab and going with a cucumber round, crying if they can’t find one (especially the chicks – they know something excellent is happening and they’re missing out), trying to find someplace private to eat their cucumber if they have one….

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I have to distribute enough slices so that everyone has at least one.

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Then it gets real quiet.

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Until they start to get Cucumber is Greener on the Other Side ideas.

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They hollow out the centers first, sometimes leaving the outer rings until the next day.img_4407

Chickery II

From Oct 14

Well, the chickery is definitely occupied, by the mom of seven, but the chicks of the mom-of-three are coming up, and they must go outside.

I thought Well, I have this big box, I can turn the flaps out and set it on the grass…img_4454

Doesn’t look so big once the birds are in it.img_4456

She does not appear impressed with the real estate.

So I upgraded.  Two boxes.  img_4459

Much better.  They are next door to Chickery I.img_4460All’s well in there.

 

First day in the chickery

We have a new hatch record.  I allowed this hen to set on 10 eggs, a compromise between the 7 or 8 i usually allow them to have, and the 20+ they try to cover.  She’s one of the largest hens, and she hatched out nine of them!  img_4380

Most of the time once they’re out of the egg they’re home free, but this time, two died in the first few days (both white ones).  They spent a full three days hatching, so they are now five to seven days old, and already have proper little wings growing in.

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When I go to put them back in the greenhouse in the evening I find this:

Oh, the grass is so dry this summer (and that's where the Silkie "tractor" has been)
Oh, the grass is so dry this summer (and that’s where the Silkie “tractor” has been)

The chicks are coming and going from underneath mom like she’s a roof, and she’s sedately being a shelter.

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Center front is a popular location.

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When I’m about to transport them to the greenhouse for the night, they all come spilling out.

First I airlift mom out, then I come back for the chicks, who are acting forlorn.img_4384

They much prefer to be picked up all together in a big two handed pile.  The last batch of five quietly allowed me to scoop them all up at once right up until they were big enough for the big coop, but seven all at once proves too many.

Good, because I can’t take pictures with two hands full.img_4388

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My favorite trick- Mom surfing.

Into the box for the night.

New occupants ready for the chickery means the former denizens, the last batch, got moved up to the big house last night.  Even at midnight, mom was feisty, flapping around, so I stuffed her under my sweatshirt (I wanted to move mom and chicks in one shipment so as to only open the coop once).  She started scratching around and climbing the inside of my shirt until she had her head stuck down my sleeve.  Ok then.  Apparently contented, she cooed as I stuffed the chicks one at a time into the roo pocket of my sweatshirt.  Chicks always seem to like it in there.  Then I dropped her into the coop, the rooster shuffling sideways on the perch to give me more than enough room, and shoveled the chicks under her.  All done.

Bumblebee Rescue

I found this bedraggled bee sitting on the plastic of my greenhouse.  I don’t know what happened, but she was finished.  She obviously was at the end of a run (pollen baskets full) without the strength to carry on.

Luckily, I had just made bee syrup for my bees, and (carrying this nearly-dead bee; I’d already picked her up), I went home, dipped my finger in the pot of syrup, and started walking back.

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The neatest part was that a second after getting the syrup on my hand, I felt all her feet suddenly grip my skin, grabbing on.  Like a hibernating robot- ACTIVATE feet!  Before, she would have dropped off if I tipped my hand.

She turned, her tongue came out, and she started sucking greedily. 20160621_203335I held her for some minutes, but after deciding I had to care for some other animals, I had to wipe her and a drop of syrup off my finger onto a perch for her to finish on her own.

I used to save bumblebees that got trapped in the house like this, with a drop of honey on a butter knife.  Set them outside together and the bee will come back to life.

My observation is that bees are not truly dead unless their tongues are stuck out, however dead they otherwise appear.  I examine bees apparently drowned or froze, curled up like death, and if their tongue is not protruding,  I set them in the sun, or in the sun in a flower for a snack.  They are almost always gone a little later, or I even see them reviving, revving up their wings.  If their tongues are out, it’s too late.  All over.

Proved: honeybees can sting and NOT die

After rescuing another half-drowned bee I ended up crouched by the hive, captivated by the drama and taking pictures.  When my camera battery died I got up to go, and then the really cool thing happened.

I got stung.

When I got up and walked away, lifting my foot squeezed the bee that had fallen or explored into the top of my shoe, and she stung the top of my bare foot.  I froze, setting my foot down to relieve the pressure on her.

Remembering that my bee guru said “If you give them time, the bee can work itself out after it stings you, and go unharmed”, I thought, well, I’ll just give her a chance here.  I bent down to watch.

The bee stuck to the top of my foot by her stinger was agitated.  She made a couple clockwise revolutions, but then turned the other way, and decisively started running circles around her stinger anti-clockwise.  She paused, hunching like she was trying to pull free, and rubbed her stinger with her back feet.  Then she resumed running counter clockwise (quite fast).

She was obviously unscrewing her stinger from my skin.  Amazing!

My skin was reddening and swelling in front of my eyes, beneath the bee.  I wondered if the swelling would “grab on” to her stinger.   Of course, it felt like I’d been stung on top of the foot.  That hurts.

She would pause and tug and rub with her feet, and then run some more.  She made at least three dozen revolutions around her stinger.  I couldn’t believe I was watching a bee unscrew herself from the top of my foot.

Did I mention the camera batteries were dead?

Near the end I could see her whole stinger, about 2mm, and it looked like the tip of it was barely attached to my skin – the weight of the bee was tugging on the very surface layer of my skin.  She made a couple more turns, came loose! – and promptly fell back down into my shoe.

The whole extrication took somewhere around two minutes.

I waited, and she came walking back out, climbing my foot.  I tried to pick her up, she tried to fly and she fell in the grass.  She was all flustered, behaving weirdly drunk.  Maybe she was simply dizzy.  After a few more attempts to pick her up and dropping her, I got her to the hive and deposited her on the doorstep.  Totally fine.

Then I went home to lie down.  I get stung on my feet at least once a year.  This time I got all the same hot, swelling, feeling like a big bruise symptoms, but I did fancy that this time, I got a smaller dose of venom.

When one gets stung on the hand, flinching or the reflexual flick is enough to throw the bee and rip the stinger sac out of her body.  The sac speared into your skin by the stinger then autonomically pumps more venom in, pulsing like a disembodied heart.  I feel like this time, I only got the one hit when she first stung me.

 

 

Experiments of the year: sweet potatoes and cucamelons

What fun is gardening without some wacky experiments?

  1. Sweet potatoes.

I got six vines from Vesey’s, which arrived in rather pathetic condition (the packaging disclaimed wretched looking vines as “normal” and claimed they would perk up.  To be fair, they did.  Five of them made it).  Since they supposedly like under-watering, I left them mostly alone after initial establishment, although the underwatering got a little extreme in this terribly dry summer.  The vines were small, but had lovely purpley-green leaves.

I dug ’em up in September.  No idea what to expect.

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Vine 1 – Uhoh.  Off to a bad start.

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Vine 2 – Oh, that’s more like it.

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Vine 3 – That’s actually a real sized potato.

Unfortunately, there were no more potatoes still in the ground from these vines.  One vine = one potato.  NOT an impressive yield.  No efficiency points for area:productivity.  That’s the gamble with experiments.

But they made one very tasty meal.

2.  Cucamelons

These took off in the greenhouse.  Three vines swarmed up their strings and headed across the cross-ties, producing loads of these weird little grape-sized melons.

cucamelons-intro2Aptly named!  It tastes like a cucumber, or a melon, or is it a cucumber?  Totally bizarre combination of tastes.  If you’re like me, you probably haven’t had cucumber and melon in the same bite before.  Crunchy skin, like a cuke.

I have no pictures of my own because the guineas in the greenhouse enjoyed many more than I did.  This pic is from James Wong, who waxes more enthusiastic about the cucamelon than I do.

I’ll grow them again next year, though; they grow so easily, and I’ll try to find more to do with them.